CAIRO – Police on Wednesday detained a freelance Egyptian TV cameraman who was covering the country's constitutional referendum for The Associated Press.
Hassan Abdullah Hassan was producing live video coverage of the referendum for the AP outside a polling station in Cairo's central Dokki neighborhood when police seized him along with his driver, Mohammed Salah Mohammed.
Hassan told AP by phone that he was arrested after police saw his footage being broadcast live on Al-Jazeera Television's Egyptian affiliate and wrongly concluded that he was an Al-Jazeera employee. Authorities here have been highly critical of Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language local affiliate, alleging it is biased against the government.
The AP was trying late Wednesday to make contact with officials in Egypt to secure the early release of both men. AP video footage is made available to client broadcasters and other AP customers all over the world.
A court had barred the local affiliate of the Qatar-based satellite station from broadcasting in Egypt since September, accusing it of endangering national security. The affiliate nevertheless has continued to broadcast out of Al-Jazeera's studios in Doha, Qatar, collaborating with freelancers and using amateur videos from Egypt.
Several journalists have been detained in recent months as part of a broader crackdown on what authorities say is biased coverage favoring ousted president Mohammed Morsi. Among them were three journalists jailed in December in Cairo while working for Al-Jazeera, arrests that have drawn criticism from numerous international journalist and news organizations.
This week's referendum is part of the country's political roadmap toward new elections for a president. It is also seen as a test of public opinion on the removal of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood from power last July by the military in a popularly backed coup.